Symphony Series 1: Majesty

Symphony Series 1 Majesty ASO 2024Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 9 Feb 2024


The ASO’s first Symphony Series concert for the year carried the title Majesty and the program included three works: contemporary Scottish American composer Thea Musgrave’s Rainbow, Tchaikovsky’s monumental Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op.23, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish). Majesty might describe aspects of the Tchaikovsky and the Mendelssohn, but the term doesn’t easily describe the Musgrave.


Stephanie Eslake’s program notes draw a longish bow at linking the three compositions and she interestingly refers to the Tchaikovsky as being the “elephant in the room”. It was performed by Ukrainian born Australian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk with such explosive flair and joie de vivre that the audience erupted in spontaneous and sustained applause at the end of the first movement. So, what made it so special?


Gavrylyuk has been described by Roger Woodward as “…the most compelling pianist of his generation” and his performance tonight of the Tchaikovsky was just that: compelling. Gavrylyuk and guest conductor Douglas Boyd set a fast pace and the elegance inherent in the piano part, especially in the first movement, could easily have been obscured in the deluge of sound. In less capable hands, that likely would have happened, but Gavrylyuk was able to articulate critical phrases and have them rise above the might of the orchestra. Watching him perform demands one’s full attention: he unleashes novel interpretations; his body language sensitively announces every emotion he feels in the music; his artistry and musicianship at the keyboard is to be marvelled at. He's the full deal. Of the three movements, the second was performed in a more conventional way. When it was over, the audience to a person knew they had heard something special. Elephant in the room? Indeed.


Musgrave’s Rainbow is unashamedly programmatic in nature, and paints a soundscape of the emergence and disappearance of a rainbow through a rainy storm event. The orchestral colours are diverse, and there is an underlying sense of chaos out of which transient melodic motifs rise and fade away as quickly as they arrived. The piece was composed in 1990, and this performance was the first by an Australian orchestra.


Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony was composed some years after he toured Scotland, and as Eslake puts it, it is a “gripping memoir” of his travels. That does not mean to say the piece is infused with hints of Scottish tunes, for it is not. Rather, it is Mendelssohn’s response to some of the things that he saw, including the crumbling grandeur of Holyrood Abbey where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned. As he walked around Scotland it is not hard to believe that Mendelssohn would have been impressed by the rugged and wild natural beauty of the landscape, and as in Musgrave’s Rainbow, Mendelssohn’s Scottish recalls nature at its awesome best. The ASO’s woodwinds were at their very best throughout the concert.


Kym Clayton


When: 9 Feb to 10 Feb

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed